by Len Lear
Laura Silverman, 56, a communications strategist who works with entrepreneurs and large organizations on their brand messaging, was working out at FitLife in Mt. Airy on Wednesday, Feb. 14, when her blissful exercises were dramatically interrupted. A TV reporter on an overhead screen announced that 17 students and staffers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, had just been murdered by a crazed gunman who formerly attended the school.
Of course we have all become regrettably accustomed to these horrific mass school shootings in recent years, but for some reason this one was different for Laura. “I’ve been asking myself why [this was different],” she said last week. “I caught myself wanting to look away, but then I thought, ‘I don’t get to look away.’”
It’s not as if Laura wasn’t a caring member of the community. In fact, she volunteers every Wednesday at Martin Luther King High School in a program with “Food Moxie”(connected to Weavers Way) that provides horticultural therapy for teenagers with autism and intellectual disabilities. “It’s a great program,” she said.
But political activism is a different animal, one she would soon embrace. Laura could not get the youthful, hopeful faces of the Parkland victims out of her mind, so she went home, looked up the faces of the Parkland victims on the internet and started drawing them. (A talented artist, Laura has an undergraduate degree in art history from Yale University and has always drawn as a hobby but not professionally.)
Laura first drew the face of 14-year-old Alyssa Alhadef and typed her name and age (on an actual typewriter) on old-fashioned notebook paper. She wanted to do more but was frozen. “I felt numbness and shock. It took a lot out of me. Words failed me at first. I could not do more than one a day.”
Each day Laura would draw one more portrait of a victim but put in more information about the student. For example: “Jaime Guttenberg, 14 years old, passionate dancer, life plan: get married at 25, become a mother, work as an occupational therapist; favorite color: orange; was shot in the back.”
The juxtaposition of these mundane facts with the shocking comment at the end and the smiling visage of this teenager who had everything to live for is compelling and powerful. One cannot help but be profoundly moved.
When Laura put these “Portraits of Parkland” illustrations on social media, the result was instantaneous, so she turned the portraits and biographical capsules into postcards and posters, formatted for home or professional use. She uploaded them to Google Drive, created a Facebook page and emailed them to friends, urging them to keep circulating them.
“The response has been incredibly satisfying,” she said. “It has obviously struck a chord with people. I’d be much happier drawing pictures in my travel journal, as I’ve done in the past, but this is something I just had to do. So far the postcard link has about 300 hits and the poster link about 100 [as of March 22]. A group in Chestnut Hill called Sisters and Solidarity sent them out, and a print shop donated a thousand, which were sent to Sen. [Pat] Toomey.”
Many of the other postcards were also sent to Sen. Toomey (R-PA), who, like almost all other Republican members of Congress, receives money from — and is essentially controlled by — the National Rifle Association, which is opposed to even the most minimal attempt to enact common sense gun laws.
“He [Toomey] will have to look those victims in the eye from now on,” said Laura.
Diane Luckman, an Old City resident who started a postcard writing campaign with Silverman’s postcards, is quoted on billypenn.com as saying, “The postcard itself is a powerful message. It hits your heart and your brain at the same time.”
Silverman, a native of New York, moved to Philly in 1989 to attend the Wharton School at Penn, where she earned an MBA. She moved to Mt. Airy in 1994. She has two grown children who attended the Greene Street Friends School.
You can download and print or share postcards or posters from Laura’s Portraits of Parkland website or share photos using the hashtag #PortraitsofParkland, or visit www.portraits-of-parkland.com